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Photographs


Oblivion, the coaster which leap-frogged Air
Oblivion, the coaster which leap-frogged Air

The site previously occupied by the New Beast
The site previously occupied by the New Beast

Air's construction site at the start of the season...
Air's construction site at the start of the season...

...and a complete circuit by the end of the year!
...and a complete circuit by the end of the year!

One of the many posters found around the park
One of the many posters found around the park

A scale model of the ride in Towers Trading
A scale model of the ride in Towers Trading

Air thrilling riders on opening day, 2002!
Air thrilling riders on opening day, 2002!

Over the year of 2001 we extensively covered the construction of Alton Towers' new roller coaster.
Here we bring you our overview of the construction.

The Coaster

Soon after the construction of Nemesis in 1994, work began between Alton Towers and Bolliger & Mabillard, to create the rollercoaster that everyone thought impossible. Originally conceived to be unveiled at Alton Towers in 1998, the design of the ride became so complex, that it was postponed, and Oblivion was designed and built ready for the 1998 season instead.

Over the past few years, the designers have been continuing to develop and enhance the ride, and now, in 2002, it is ready to be unleashed onto the public. Things may not have gone exactly to plan, as other manufacturers have released their own versions of a similar concept, but Air will be the first in the UK and the first for B&M, although a similar coaster has also been built in the USA.

So now, we can all experience the sensation of flight, as Alton Towers and B&M promise a ride like no other on the planet.

The Site

The site for the coaster occupies the site previously held by the New Beast ride, which was removed in the late nineties in preparation for site works to begin. Helium filled balloons were then tied to strings, and flown at various pre-determined heights at key places around the site, to determine the maximum height the ride could go without becoming an eye-sore. Once this was done the design for the new ride could be finalised with B&M and John Wardley ready for construction to begin.

The Layout

It is believed that the design for the new coaster was meant to be kept a secret by Alton Towers, however during the planning application stage the designs were on view and various websites made copies of the plans and published them on the internet. What appeared was a rather basic and bland layout which had many people worrying that the ride was not going to be what they were hoping for.

Construction

Construction work began during the 2000/2001 closed season with basic ground work being done with the wet weather turning it into a large area of mud. The first photos on the internet were from a special RCCGB trip to Alton for Comic Relief where photos of a large 90 degree trench being dug emerged. Construction steadily continued throughout the season with a second tunnel emerging, as stated on the leaked layout of the ride. With most footers being completed by August, it was only a matter of time before some steelwork arrived on site. By mid August turquoise blue coloured track appeared in an adjacent car park, this sent internet discussion boards into overdrive mode as people either loved or hated the colour chosen for the track and this "airy" coloured track sent military themes or any ordinary Forbidden Valley themed coaster out of the window. By the closed season the coaster was nearly complete, the inline twist was constructed in time to dash anybody's hopes of a world first flying corkscrew, as shown on a model of the ride in Towers Trading. By December pictures were on the internet of the completed ride circuit and the trains - although covered in a plastic wrapping so fine details could not be seen.
On January 10th John Wardley announced on Rideas that Air had made its first test successfully, it would now be only a matter of time before people were riding Air.

The Marketing

Air's marketing was different from the top secretness of both Nemesis and Oblivion, with large posters in the park announcing the imminent arrival of a "new generation flying coaster." By August and the summer holiday peak period many more posters were around the park, warning people to "prepare for air" with the large blue Air swirl above as well as one poster in Forbidden Valley showing people an artists impression of the flying coaster carriages. Also, in Towers Trading a scale model of Air arrived showing accurately - bar the corkscrew that is an inline twist - the layout and area landscaping of Air's area. This in park marketing was there to drum up excitement for the new coaster arriving next year.
Since the beginning of 2002 Air has been popping up in various publications and other sources, articles in the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Funday Times, Staffordshire Short Breaks, Alton's local newspaper, the Sky Digital magazine as well as Kellogg's Cornflakes packets.
At the beginning of March Air's official £4.5 million marketing campaign kicked off, with 10 second adverts on television, followed by 30 second adverts on the nights leading up to the 16th as well as lengthy adverts in the cinema. Air has also made appearances on X-Change on the CBBC Channel and Blue Peter and is likely to appear on many holiday programmes throughout the year, Air may also feature on a documentary being made for Channel 5 due to be shown in August.

The Theme

During 2001 people are the internet had many different ideas for themes, military attacks on Nemesis, another alien that could fly, the fear of drowning or the feeling of flight, but by the beginning 2002 the theme of an "Oasis" at the end of the valley where any goodness that was in the Forbidden Valley can retreat and experience the exhilarating and liberating feeling of true flight.

Due to this theming being quite unique for any rollercoaster at Alton Towers, theme park enthusiasts have been quite negative over the whole minimalistic theming of Air and would probably have preferred more extravagant theming with a "you are not going to take another breath once you've been on Air" rather than a "enjoy Air and have fun, this ride isn't scary" approach to the ride.

Conclusion

Overall Air has provided a year and a half's worth of entertainment for anyone following the construction of it. Alton Towers will almost undoubtedly have themselves yet another winning coaster on their hands that is a little different to their other two intense coasters. The future is looking rather bright for Alton Towers, with the high chance of another family coaster before the next Secret Weapon, presumably in 2006. With a £40 million hotel and water park opening in 2003 Alton Towers appears to be expanding into becoming a "destination" as well as strengthening its position as the UK's Number 1 Theme Park.

Chris Keating & Steve Taylor